Bene earning legendary status at Salpointe Catholic

When a team adjusts from being down 14-0 early, especially in a pressure situation, some good coaching must be involved.

That was the case last night when Salpointe Catholic went from the depths of possible elimination in the Class 4A playoffs to the height of potentially winning it all in the state title game Dec. 2 against Scottsdale Saguaro at Arizona Stadium.

The Lancers trailed Sunrise Mountain 14-0 in the first quarter last night in Glendale. Instead of folding, the Lancers became stronger and ran the ball practically at will against the Mustangs, winning 49-27.

Salpointe coach Dennis Bene, instead of showing panic to his team by trying to make up the deficit immediately via the passing game, stayed with his team’s bread and butter — his running game. With the likes of Bijan Robinson and Mario Padilla — two backs who will play at the next level — Bene knew they would offer the best chance of a win.

Robinson racked up 303 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns and Padilla added 202 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns. They combined for 505 yards between the two of them, averaging an incredible 11.5 yards a carry.

Salpointe head coach Dennis Bene has coached 15 players to the next level. (Andy Morales/

They did this by playing big-boy football, running physical between the lines, shooting through gaps their offensive linemen afforded them.

“They are fast but our team speed handled that,” Bene said of Sunrise Mountain’s defense. “We just had to go north and south. We really didn’t run sideline to sideline very much because I didn’t think we could get the edges because of their speed.”

Robinson has 1,859 yards rushing this season on 165 carries, an average of 11.3 yards per carry. Padilla is at 758 yards on 85 carries, averaging 8.9 yards a rush. Bene knows good things will happen with the ball in their hands.

Washington-bound offensive lineman Matteo Mele is one of the guys up front opening the lanes for Robinson and Padilla.

Mario Padilla (7) & Bijan Robinson. (Andy Morales/

As he has performed all season, quarterback Rodrigo Nieto was a perfect complement to Robinson and Padilla, limiting mistakes in the passing game and managing an effective offensive flow. He completed only five passes in eight attempts for 80 yards, but he did not throw an interception.

He ran for a touchdown and completed two touchdown passes, one to Padilla and the other to reliable receiver Andrew Jacobs.

Bene, in his 17th season with Salpointe (his alma mater), is going for his second state title as the Lancers’ coach. They won the championship in 2013. Bene has a 161-41 career record.

His victory total only trails the late Vern Friedli of Amphi, Jeff Scurran of Catalina Foothills and Todd Mayfield of Tucson and Palo Verde. Bene was an assistant under Scurran at Pima Community College when he took the Salpointe job in 2001.

Wildcat prospect Bijan Robinson. (Andy Morales/

Here’s a list of the top winners in Tucson-area high school football through the years:

331 — Vern Friedli, Amphi

224 — Jeff Scurran, Catalina Foothills and Sabino

171 — Todd Mayfield, Tucson and Palo Verde

161 — Dennis Bene, Salpointe

156 — Richard Sanchez, Sunnyside

144 — Wayne Jones, Marana Mountain View

134 — Pat Nugent, CDO and Cienega

118 — Howard Breinig, Sahuaro

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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